February is Black History Month and throughout the month OLMC will feature stories from the rich tradition, and at times hidden history, of Black Catholics in the United States and around the world.
Denver’s Angel of Charity was born into slavery, at Hannibal, Missouri, between 1833 and 1848. As a young child, Julia’s right eye was destroyed by a cruel slave owner’s whip.
Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Julia subsequently earned her keep by serving white families in Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico—though mostly in the Denver area. Whatever she could spare, Julia spent assisting poor families in her neighborhood. When her resources were inadequate, she begged for food, fuel and clothing for the needy.
Julia entered the Catholic Church at Sacred Heart Parish in Denver in 1880. The Jesuits who ran the parish considered her the most enthusiastic promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus they had ever seen. Every month she visited on foot every fire station in Denver and delivered literature of the Sacred Heart League to the firemen, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. A daily communicant, Julia had a rich devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin and continued her prayers while working and moving about.
She became known for her charitable works, pulling a red wagon through the streets of Denver in the dark to bring food, coal, clothing, and groceries to needy families. She made her rounds after dark so as not to embarrass white families ashamed to accept charity from a poor, black woman.
In 1901, Greeley joined the Secular Franciscans and remained an active member for the rest of her life. In recognition of her dedication to the poor, Greeley has been dubbed “Denver’s Angel of Charity.” In January 2014, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver officially opened an investigation for her sainthood.
Greeley did not marry and the majority of her time helping others and completing church duties. Years later when the Gilpin’s died, Greeley began to do labor work for a number of wealthy white families. With this money she made, she decided to give it all away to people who needed it. She went all around Denver, supplying poor families with needs like clothes and food. One of her major acts of kindness was when she donated her own burial plot for an African American man who passed away. He was going to be laid into a Pauper’s grave but Greeley would not let that happen. After this, many people began to call her the “colored angel of charity” because of her kindness. Because of all her dedication to families in poverty, she was officially named “Denver’s Angel of Charity”.
To the present day many people have been asking that her cause be considered for canonization, a request which was finally granted in the Fall of 2016. As part of the Cause for Canonization, Julia’s mortal remain were transferred to Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on June 7, 2017.
Greeley is one of the four people that U.S. bishops voted to allow to be investigated for possible sainthood at their fall meeting. She joins four other African Americans placed into consideration in recent years. She is also the first person to be interred in the Denver cathedral since it opened in 1912.